Alaska kills costly bridge that put end to earmarks
bobbleheads in the media change the conduct of this Congress and make us less free under the control of nameless bureaucrats,” he said.
Those in Alaska found the Washington fight mystifying.
“An earmark is only the money spent in another guy’s district. That’s just political. That’s something back East,” said Mr. Williams, Ketchikan’s mayor.
Officials point out that Alaska has been a state for about 50 years and is still building infrastructure across a giant land mass, which is why so much federal transportation money seems to end up there. Most big state transportation projects are built with 90 percent federal money, with just 10 percent coming from local taxpayers.
Bridge opponents said that kind of arrangement lends itself to extravagant projects because the state doesn’t have bear much of the burden.
Another oddity of earmarks is that Alaska has kept all of the more than $300 million secured by Mr. Young and Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican who died in 2010. Most of the money earmarked for the bridge has been spent on other state projects, but some $87.8 million remains in a fund.
Ketchikan officials are intent on making sure that money is used to boost ferry service and make improvements at the ferry terminals. They still think Washington politicians bungled the decision-making. The bridge, they insist, was the right call.
“They’ll learn as soon as they get here and try to get across [the narrows] that bridge access is a very reasonable thing,” Mr. Williams said.
Future of earmarks
Many lawmakers in Washington, including Mr. Young, want earmarks to make a comeback.
Mr. Boehner, before his retirement last month, told reporters he had been approached by another House leader who was wondering whether it was time to revive the practice.
But with 180 members of the House having never served in a Congress with earmarks, it might be difficult to reimpose them the same way.
Thomas A. Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, which pioneered anti-earmarking and published the annual “Pig Book” to highlight bad spending, said the practice hasn’t disappeared entirely and that some of it has been pushed beneath the surface.
One practice that popped up during the 2009 stimulus program, which was supposed to be free of earmarks, involved key lawmakers sending letters to agencies outlining how they wanted to see money spent. The implication was that agencies’ future budgets would depend on whether they followed orders. Opponents called it “letter marking.”
Mr. Schatz said the amount is much smaller than at the heyday of earmarking but that there is still room for improvement.
New House Speaker Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, has promised to rethink the chamber’s rules. One option could be to ask lawmakers to make their communications to agencies public.